Saturday, February 24, 2018

This one slipped in underneath the radar

It is generally accepted that farmers are going to face a more competitive environment after Brexit. Support payments will be lower; there may be more competition from cheap imports; exports could be disrupted.

At the very least, farmers might expect a level playing field domestically. But that has not been the case for some time. Power has moved down the food chain to retailers. They are engaged in intense competition, not least against the interlopers Aldi and Lidl. The most important element in that competition is price. So they ask farmers to produce high quality goods at the lowest possible prices.

I have been told some stories of retailer sharp practice over the years by reliable individuals that give me cause for concern. I cannot repeat them because I do not have an evidence base. Evidence is difficult to obtain because producers fear retailer reprisals.

The Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA), sometimes referred to as the 'supermarkets ombudsman', was designed to tackle these problems. With modest resources, some progress has been made. However, in an announcement slipped out this week when other agricultural and food stories were dominant, the Government has said that it will not extend the remit of the GCA.

It suits the government to have intense competition between supermarkets which keeps down food prices. But farmers are left as price takers.

The letter from the minister to the chair of the Defra committee can be found here: Adjudicator

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